Cabernet Franc is grown elsewhere in France, notably in the South-West where it is used in the classic Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but it is in the Loire appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil and St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil that it really comes into its own.
The wines of all three appellations are very similar; they can be drunk young and chilled in some cases but the best wines really do benefit from at least a few years bottle ageing.
Chinon, a town dating back to the Middle Ages, is situated on the banks of the river Vienne in Indre-et-Loire. The vinyards of the Chinon AOC cover the relatively steep banks of the river Vienne as well as the gentler slopes running northward from Chinon to the river Loire. The wine region cover around 2300 hectares.
Most Chinon is red, and up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is permitted, but there are also rosé wines and whites, made from the Chenin Blanc. The wines from the steeper rockier vineyards along the hills that separate the valleys of the Loire and Vienne tend to be more tannic and therefore more suitable for ageing.
Bourgueil is situated on the right-bank of the Loire River, to the west of Tours and on the edge of the Maine-et-Loire department. It stretches over an area of 1400 hectares, a smaller area than Chinon, but when the 800 hectares of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil are added in, the two regions are comparable in size.
The two Bourgueil appellations are very similar and are mainly red, with only about 2% of the production being made into rosé. These wines are considered to be more suitable for ageing than Chinon generally and are often considerably more tannic when young. The wines from the more gravelly soils are considered to be the better wines and some can benefit from up to 15 or 20 years in bottle in good vintages.
Most people do not think of the Loire as red wine country, the white wines are much more well known, but these Cabernet Franc (locally known as the Cabernet Breton) wines are well worth looking out, especially when on holiday in the region. Most producers welcome visitors for tastings and, hopefully, purchases. There are co-operatives around the region but the smaller producers can often provide some excellent bargains.
There are some big names too; Couly-Dutheil are probably the biggest name in Chinon and their wines can be excellent. They have a retail location on the hill above the Château de Chinon on the avenue François Mitterrand, which is where Le Clos de l’Echo, one of their most famous vineyards is situated.